IN LATE FEBRUARY 1946 southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, Mom and Dad have called us young boys together in the living room. With its dark wood trim and dark furniture, it is gloomy; the lights are off. It is not a welcoming room at any time, but now it seems even less friendly.
Mom and Dad sit on a dully-flowered couch and start to cry. We have never seen them cry before.
Mom explains, “Rosemary had a hole in her heart, and died. The doctors couldn’t fix it.”
Talking to Mom, years later, she said, “I regret not having a picture of Rosemary. At times I can see her, but the image won’t hold solid; it wavers and fades away.” She went on, “It’s like trying to pick up raindrops on a smooth cement sidewalk with your fingers and putting them in a glass. They just separate and move apart, no matter how hard you try. The whole of her little face never seems to pull together. With the years, she becomes even more elusive.”
IT IS NOW the spring of 1963, May 30 to be exact, and Memorial Day in the United States. It is also a special day here in the Dominican Republic. People are dancing, singing, drinking and partying. It is a day of celebration. Blaring radios in our rural community repeatedly play a meringue song, La Muerte del Chivo. This means, “The Death of the Goat.” Two years ago, Leonidas Trujillo, the US-supported dictator, was assassinated on a highway near Santo Domingo, the capital, much to the joy of the oppressed Dominicans.
“Bob, if they play that song one more time I am going to whack every radio to death with my machete!”
As Peace Corps Volunteers, Bob and I live on the second floor of the pale green, wooden casa curial, the parish house next to the small village church in way-off-the-road Puñal in the northern portion of the Dominican Republic. There is no electricity, running water or sewer. Rent is cheap; only twenty-five dollars out of the ninety-five we each get for our monthly allowance from the US government. You can buy a lot of rice and beans and Presidente beer with the rest. We only have to stay out of the way on Sundays when the priest comes from Santiago de los Caballeros, some twenty-five miles away. The rest of the time we work on our projects: water supplies with hand pumps from CARE, English classes, and youth baseball teams. We introduce new varieties of cigar wrapper tobacco. The local men learn windmill and pump repair. We do anything to keep busy and to better the lives of the Puñaleros.
One of our projects involves working with fifteen-year old Manny, the oldest Fernández boy of one of the many Fernández families. Bob and I are part of a team introducing a new breed of pigs into the country. They are Hampshire-Durocs, reddish shorthaired pigs that seem to do well in the heat.
It seems absurd that the pigs have a concrete floor for their pen, while Manny’s family lives in a house with a dirt floor and open-slatted, split palm tree walls, with tropical rain coming through during the heavy hurricane-related late summer storms.
After our breakfast of bread, fresh pineapple and strong Cibao Valley coffee finely ground and boiled in a sock-like bag, old Doña Aurora Fernández comes tapping on our door. She is queen of the big area-wide Fernández family. She knows what goes on with all of them. Bob and I laugh about it, saying, “It should have been called Villa Fernández instead of Puñal.”